“One of the most joyous things we can do is to find our place, the land where we belong. Having found our place, we snuggle into it, learn about it, adapt to it, and accept it fully. We love and honor it. We rejoice in it. We cherish it. We become native to the land of our living.”
Carol Deppe

The Resilient Gardener

It’s best not to name a relationship

n
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Straining my back

n

We had just completed the first two days of work of renovation of the summer kitchen. It was the morning after and the excavator arrived for a few tasks we bundled together. I had already done a few tasks to clear the way for the excavator and felt a bit of discomfort in my lower back. I then bent down to move a couple of roof tiles, a sudden pain gripped my back and I collapsed to the ground … squirming in pain, trying to catch my breath and find a physical position in which the pain would stop. That was 3.5 weeks ago.

I have experienced this kind of pain twice before. Since my spine and back are in great shape (thanks to Yoga practice) I was confident it wasn’t a structural problem. The pain seemed to originate in muscles and not in the spine itself. Iulia was not so convinced and immediately suggested we call an ambulance, I declined.

We sent the excavator away. Alin, Iulia’s friend, stuck around a bit longer to see if he could be of assistance. I felt that given enough time I’d be able to into the house on my own (walking or crawling …). So we sent Alin home too.

I found a “comfortable” position, but I was face down. Very gradually I explored movement and eventually found a way to lie down on my back. But not more then that. I found a bit more comfort by rolling into a slight indentation in the soil … only to find that I was trapped in it. On the other side, Litza and Una, the puppies, started digging a hole together … I refused to take the hint.

Iulia pointed out, rightfully, that this was the longest time I spent lying down on the ground. There were some clouds in the sky and a delicate potential of rain that made me a bit anxious. I wanted to get inside the house. After 4 hours, and twice peeing in a bottle (a first for me!) I came to realize that I wasn’t going to make it in the house on my own (Iulia tried dragging me, and that got me out of the ditch, but not much further).

That was when Iulia brought up the ambulance again. I still rejected it … but then realized (I had nothing but time to reflect as I was lying on my back staring at the cloudy sky) that two guys and a stretcher may be helpful in getting me inside. So I approved the ambulance call. Iulia called, after some time we saw the ambulance trying to navigate down to us through the fields … and failing. They turned around, I think they were able to connect with Iulia and then arrived using the road.

The paramedics were patient. They offered to take me to the hospital. One of them explained that I am entitled to 3 free days of hospitalization if I am brought in by an ambulance. I’m guessing this is because it is common that people do not have medical insurance. I do not have any medical insurance. But regardless, I did not want to go anywhere near a hospital.

We asked for help carrying me in and I braced myself for that transition. It was painful rolling on to the stretcher and being moved around. They were able to get me onto the bed … and I was delighted to discover that the stretcher could be pulled apart into two long halves and pulled out effortlessly and painlessly from under me. They took my blood pressure, offered to test my blood sugar level (I refused), and had me sign a paper that they were on the scene and that I declined to be taken to hospital. We were not charged anything for this assistance (for which I was very grateful).

Healing

I was stuck in bed for two days. I got used to peeing in a bottle. Fortunately by the time I needed to poop I was able to sit-up. One of the benefits of simple composting toilet is that it isn’t anchored to the ground. Iulia was able to move it to the bedroom and I was able to get myself on it. That was quite a relief.

Initially inhaling triggered pains so I wasn’t able to do much with breath. I was able to move gently, mostly on my back. When I regained access to breathing I found my full breathing capacity available to me. That caused a deep refinement in the physical movements I was able to do.

A week before this happened, Iulia had a session with a sacral-cranial therapist. Iulia inquired about her coming out to a treatment session at home but she was not available. She did refer us to another therapist who was available to come out.

By this time I was able to get up, move around, lie down (though going all the way down to the floor was a challenge). He spread out a large mat and had me lie down on it. He was able to precisely locate a specific strained muscle (I could tell by the pain). I was glad (mostly for Iulia) that he could confirm this was a muscle and not a structural issue. Though as the minutes passed I realized that this is not a sacral-cranial session. This is some kind of massage therapy … and it was torture.

After 20+ years of Yoga, I have come to deeply know and trust my breathing. If during practice, I THINK I can go no further but my BREATH is steady and collected, I KNOW I can go on. If I THINK I can do more, but there is effort in my BREATH, I KNOW I can not go further. I trust my breath more than I trust my own thinking. This massage so painful that it was taking my breath away … and that is not a strategy I can embrace. I did hold out for this one session, but refused (the therapist offered 2 or 3 more sessions) further “assistance”.

There was a slight improvement from this. Though I believe it was equal to one or two days of natural healing. I believe this intervention had a sudden effect on my apana and for the next couple of days my stomach felt like a mess and my appetite was disrupted.

At around 10 days into this adventure, I was feeling better. I was walking more and more, I was even able to slowly and caringly do light work (I am not used not comfortable staying in bed for so long). However I was not sleeping well due to an overall sense of agitation coupled with the need to physically shift my body (and the challenge of doing so).

We then planned a city day that included a session with the sacra-cranial therapist. I agreed to this, and was a bit curious about it, because I understand it to be an approach that, through gentle touch that signals the body, invites the body to discover its own path of healing. I trust this approach much more than interventions that heal or fix. The session was delicate and embracing. I felt that the therapist made a space to hold and care for me – numerous times during the session I felt cradled.

The rest of the day in the city was longer than planned and very tiring for me. By the time we made it home, I was tired and agitated. I was surprised, under these circumstances, to find good sleep (which I felt was related to the therapy). During the next few days, I also felt my apana settle (a typical pattern in my healing is that illness passes through my digestion and is finally eliminated from the body).

In the following days I was able to start building up an intentional morning practice that gradually developed every day. I found increased mobility, full breathing, regained confidence and got acquainted with rigidity that was left behind from the strain. I was even able to immerse myself in a couple of kumiko workshop sessions where I lost track of time.

Then things turned again … and things got worst. I found myself back in bed most of the time. I was still able to get up and walk around, but with more effort and attention. The nature of the pain changed in this iteration. Initially it was a very specific pain that was on the left side of my lower back. Now it is a wider symmetrical area (with more “glow” on the left side) that is slightly higher. I feel that it may be an area that tightened up during the initial weeks to compensate for the pain I was experiencing. Now that area is loosening up again … I believe that is the pain I was (still am) feeling (I cannot move in cakravakasana).

I am now recovering from that second dip. I still spend most of my day lying down. I continue to be guided by my breath.

Source

I believe that this injury is speaking from (and to) a core tension that exists in me (and has been building up over recent years). It is a tension between a vital life-force I feel is present in me alongside a diminishing desire to live.

I realize that in a western mindset it may not make sense that I say that my back is in great shape and that my life has been on pause for almost 4 weeks because of back pain. But that duality echoes what is inside me. I feel deeply established in well-being (spiritual and physical) and I also feel that it does not matter because I have not been able to find a place in this world. I feel like I am merely passing time, I am trying to pass my time well … but I also feel saturated … I’ve had enough.

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Yoga & Allergy 2019: Recovery … and crash

n

From the time I published my previous update I was pleased to find stability. Though the symptoms of allergy persisted, I found myself feeling stable. I was held softly in practice every day and I was grateful for that.

I used antihistamines over a period of only 2 or 3weeks. I had two types of medication to try (generic medication since I did not want to go through the medical processes of identifying my specific allergy). Both seemed to offer some ease and support (I took them first thing in the morning).

One of the medications came with side-effects of general heaviness (a lethargic feeling) and some head-aches. It provided me with a spacious opening in the first few hours of the day, but consumed the rest of it. It took me a few days to realize that the down-feelings may be related to the medication. I haven’t consumed medicine for at least 15 years so I am not used to it being present in my life, in my body or in my attention.

Once I realized that there were undesirable side-effects I transition to using the medication that had less side-effects. I also started to pay attention to see when I could withdraw the medication completely. I was surprised to find that I didn’t need the medication anymore.

I was also surprised when on June20th I experienced a sudden turning point. I felt an internal shift in energy. I felt invited to “rebuild”, to take small steps towards deeper breath and vitality in practice. I kept this log of changes that took place in the practice and its transition back to a more whole and intense state:

DateAsanaPranayama
June 20thTurning point
+ utkatasana x 4
+ 2 more breaths in mahamudra:
2x 12.2.12.2
2x 12.4.12.4
+ 1x 12.4.12.6
+ 1x 12.4.12.8
+ trying to add bhastrika at beginning of pactice … not steady yet
8.0.12.0 x 6 anuloma
8.0.12.4 x 6 anuloma
8.4.12.4 x 6 anuloma
8.4.12.8 x 6 anuloma
8.0.8.0 x 6 anuloma
4.0.4.0 x4 ujjayi
June 27th+ sound in parsva uttanasana
+ trikonasana sequence
+ increase step size + peak BK in pranayama
8.0.12.0 x 6 anulom
8.4.12.4 x 6 anuloma
8.4.12.8 x 6 anulom
8.0.8.0 x 6 anuloma
4.0.4.0 x4 ujjayi
July 1st+ utkatasana R4
July 4th+ separate sitting sequence (convert static stay into later separate mahamudra)
+ add seated twist (start with S4)
July 7th+ kapalabhati 2×30 at beginning of practice
July 9th+ extend mahamudra to 8 breaths
July 10th+ introduce backbends (basic symmetrical variations only)
July 13th – drop back-bends (added too early)
July 16th+ re-intoduce backbends
+ transition from anuloma to pratiloma
8.0.12.0 x 8 pratiloma
8.0.12.4 x 8 pratiloma
8.4.12.4 x 8 pratiloma
8.0.8.0 x 8 pratiloma
4.0.4.0 x4 ujjayi
July 19th+ exploration of longer BK in mahamudra: 8 seconds & 12 seconds8.0.12.0 x 8 pratiloma
8.4.12.4 x 8 pratiloma
8.4.12.8 x 8 pratiloma
8.0.8.0 x 8 pratiloma
4.0.4.0 x4 ujjayi
July 22nd– strained back … immobilized
August 1st+ on the mat with limited healing practice, full ujjayi breath capacity available (breath no longer cut of by pain).

As this log shows, a month after the “positive” turning point I strained my back. It seemed very severe when it happened (a lot more to say about this incident … maybe in another post). I was outside, I bent down to pick something up, a sharp pain hit me and took my breath away and I collapsed to the ground. I lay on the ground for 4 hours believing I would be able to get up and walk inside (my primary goal at the time) on my own. Eventually I succumbed to Iulia’s suggestion that we can an ambulance … and the paramedics came up and loaded me onto a stretcher and carried me inside to the bed.

I am now tending to my health within the context of this event. The healing seems to be well and rapid. My practice has shifted into a therapeutic context. I have most of my mobility back and am gradually testing for strength.

I have extended my graphing experiment to describe this period. What I thought was going to be a one-dip illustration has taken an unexpected and sudden second-dip.

The view over the years shows a positive change. As I was looking forward from mid-July it seemed I was on track to a full recovery (back to full practice) by the end of July. In past years the end of July would be the (earliest) time I would typically start a journey of recovery (from a lesser state of well-being) that would take at least a month.

The high resolution view of 2019 continues to show that breath was a steady and reliable quality throughout this period. Body and vitality took the deepest hit when I strained my back … more so than during the allergy period. Again, the come-back from the back strain seems (for now) to be quicker.

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Understanding in Hebrew

n

For Dan and “The Understanding Group” 🙂

What follows is a flow of thoughts about “understanding” in the Hebrew language … my knowledge of language (both Hebrew and English) is more intuitive than formal … so some of this stuff may not be “exactly true”!

Hebrew is built upon root words which typically have three letters. For example the root for the variants of “understanding” is:

ב י נ

The root then takes on different shapes and forms:

  • Understand (as in “I/you understand” masculine): מבין (mevin)
  • Understand (as in “I/you understand” feminine): מבינה (mevina)
  • Understanding (as in “an understanding”): הבנה (havana)
  • Wisdom: תבונה (tvuna)
  • Insight: תובנה (tovana)
  • Intelligence: בינה (bina)
  • In a positive (understanding) spirit: בהבנה (behavana = in understanding)
  • Intuition: בינת הלב (binat halev = an understanding of/in the heart)
  • Introspection: התבוננות (hitbonenut)

The hebrew alphabet assigns numerical values to letters. This means that a word can be given a numerical value by adding up the value of its letters:

  • ב = 2
  • 10 = י
  • נ = 50

A total value of 62. Sometimes, by changing the order of the letters of the root word you arrive at new roots new roots (which lead to new words). For example:

ב נ י

Is the root that morphs into words related to “building” (as in construction) … and it has the same numerical value … a shared root value!

So, another re-arrangement of the same three letters gives:

נ י ב

… which means “to bring forth” or “yield” … and has the same numerical root value … and suggests that there is something shared at the root of words such as: understand, build, yield.

I find it curious that in English the word “understanding” in the context of “the understanding group” seems (to me) to occupy some construct (maybe if I had a more academic grasp of language I could name it) … it seems to imply some kind of continuous state of reality … a kind of “state of understanding” … the essence of this is outside the set of other meanings – eg:

  • A group that has an insight
  • A group that creates meaning
  • A group that is open and compassionate

All of these I can translate to Hebrew. I cannot translate “The Understanding Group” … there is something evasive about it … as if the Hebrew language is whispering to me that “there is no such thing as a state of understanding”.

On a similar note (and this may be just conjecture on my part), a literal reading of the root of understanding:

ב י נ

… directly read and means “between.” I read that as “that which is between” … Hebrew seems to be implying that understanding is a dynamic relationship.

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Kumiko Unfolding part6: Andon Lamp as a Canvas

n

Satisfied with the experiment of the first asa-no-ha pattern I wanted to continue. I wanted to get more practice under my belt. But just making more asa-no-ha patterns didn’t feel appealing. I wanted to make something that would include the asa-no-ha pattern.

Of all the Kumiko examples I’ve seen, Andon lamps were most appealing to me. They are small and contained works, they offer (what seems to me now like) an endless space for exploration, they are beautiful and functional … and maybe there are people out there who want them (there are only so many lamps we need in our small house).

The lamp journey started with the frame itself. Since I still only had pine-ish wood I decided to make the frame charred & oiled and the patterns natural wood.

The frame presented new challenges in terms of precision and joinery. I chose to do traditional mortise & tenon joinery which was tricky because the pieces are small and the soft wood is prone to splitting. I sharpened my chisels and set out to explore my first real venture into proper joinery.

After cutting the joinery I tried out the new torch for charring and then oiling. I managed to build and assemble a frame of decent accuracy (though it does wobble a bit):

I could now take precise measurements and plan the kumiko pattern. This sent me on another tangent. I tried drawing by hand to get a rough sense of the pattern possibilities but felt that was not good enough for me to really sense the pattern. So I explored 2D cad options for Ubuntu and landed on LibreCad. A simple, but not intuitive (for me) application that required a learning curve and then formulating a basic strategy for me to put it to good use. I then had a pattern I which gave me the measurements I needed to get on with the Kumiko.

I had enough kumiko strips to build the grids, but not enough to fill them with the patterns. This blocked me … I had developed a slight aversion to cutting strips. This was when I decided to try cutting strips sitting on the floor (as I imagined a traditional Japanese maker would):

… and that worked well enough to cut the additional strips I would need to finish the patterns.

This time I felt more familiar and fluent in creating the asa-no-ha pattern (and they took much less time to make). An equivalent of 6 asa-no-ha went into the lamp:

Because of imperfections in the squaring of the frame I had to shave off the sides of the panels to custom fit each one into a specific side of the frame. But suddenly I had 4 panels … and I encountered shoji paper and glue for the first time … and the 4 panels were covered and the lamp was assembled:

The lamp is standing, and has replaced, where a candle holder was. Now it, instead of a candle, is lit during my Yoga practice.

I cannot communicate enough (probably because I don’t fully understand yet) how impactful the presence of this lamp is for me. It is the first thing I’ve created since moving to Bhudeva that was created to be, first and foremost, beautiful. Sitting regulalry, as a matter of fact, next to it, I feel it is speaking to me and guiding me.

I want to make more “of this”.

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Kumiko Unfolding – Part5: Asa-no-ha

n

Once I had workable kumiko strips I gladly turned to making an asa-no-ha pattern. I spoiled two sets of kumiko strips before I got the marking and cutting decently done.

As I was doing this I felt that I had developed an attachment to the kumiko strips. They were difficult to create and felt like a precious resource and that put me into a kind of scarcity relationship with them. I had to work through that. I had to allow myself to try and fail, to learn through doing.

My third attempt led to an acceptable jigumi (the basic grid in which the pattern is created). Here is the jigumi with diagonals already added to it:

A couple of hours later I was looking at my first complete asa-no-ha pattern:

Making this first pattern (like many other following steps) made me better appreciate the need for precision. Consistent precision in early steps (such as milling kumiko strips) leads to ease and peace in later steps. All of which contributes to a better quality pattern.

When I started this experiment I had a notion that precision was about my skill and effort … and it is … but in a subtle and indirect way. For example, I worked hard at trying to cut strips better, but my efforts were not yielding better results. I came to appreciate that skill was not just about how I hold and move a saw … which despite my best efforts kept following the grain pattern. Using a jig that guided the saw and kept it aligned was a better investment of my effort. A good combination of tools, techniques and process lead to better outcomes with less effort.

I keep coming back to this video as an inspiring example of smart and peaceful work. In it the maker is using a jig to make cuts that yield repeatable and reliable results (instead of a lot of measuring, cutting, adjusting … fiddling).

For me, mastery in this video is exemplified in the unspoken “environment” that makes such work possible:

  • knowing and having a constant dimension of jigumi (the grid that is filled out).
  • knowing and having constant dimensions of kumiko strips to match the jigumi.
  • considering how to get materials in & out of the jig.
  • a familiarity and sensitivity to the way the saw cuts through the material … so that the work surface is barely scratched!

The “genius” comes not so much from the maker but from the relationship and mastery with his surroundings. Creating processes, tools and techniques that, at every step of the way, lead to … peaceful making:

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Kumiko Unfolding – Part4: Jigs & Milling Kumiko Strips

n

I am an autodidact and I prefer learning through doing (I get very drowsy very quickly in most frontal, spoken learning configurations). Before moving to Romania most of that learning took place in mindy discplines … like learning to code. In Romania that changed when making & learning moved out of the virtual world and into the physical world. In the mental world errors in learning can be tricky: I can type into a text editor code that has syntax errors – until I run it; I can create poorly designed software and not know it until people use it (or never know it because no one uses it … because it isn’t good!). In the physical world, while there are similar feedback loops, there are also more immediate and vivid feedback that is sensed in the body before it is even understood.

When I started making in the physical world, I went through quite a few phases of disillusionment. When I came to build the humanure hacienda, I knew the sequece by heart, but when it came to execute: dig 8 holes for posts … the first whole took a month because it also involved learning what makes for a good shovel and what is a good time to dig (not immediately after rain because the soil is heavy and sticky, but not when its hot and dry because it is rock solid). This kind of assumed information is rarely a part of the instructions of the actual project I am trying to build. At first, I didn’t know this. I learned it the hard way. Now I have a nose that quickly picks up the scent of assumed yet unspoken information.

Take for example this video shot by someone who was lucky enough to visit a kumiko maker in Japan:

The video starts with lovely kumiko strips already cut and ready for assembly. What you dont’ see is how those strips are milled, sized, smoothed and cut (with notches). The only hint are the machines that you can sometimes glimpse in the background. These are specialized, expensive machines that don’t exist outside of Japan. You can see some of these machines at work in this video where you can see semi-indutrial production of kumiko lamps:

So the challenge I was facing was how to produce these strips with the rough pine-ish lumber I currently have access to and without making a large investment in tools. Whenever possible I look for graduality. I wanted to see if I could make a basic pattern within the settings of my workshop … AND how I would feel while making it.

This led me into the world of jigs – basically home-made (though some are available commercially) tools that are usually designed for specific tasks. So, for example, before even thinking about strips I needed to transform a rough piece of straight-grained lumber into a precisely dimensioned (all 4 sides are at 90 degress to each other AND correctly sized)  piece. In most western “Youtube workshops” this is done quickly and easily using 3 machines: a jointer, a thicknesser and a table saw. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details of what they are and how are they are used … what mattered to me was that I have none of these machines. I did have a table and a vise and some hand tools (with no experience on using them).

To do this basic task (preparing a piece of wood from which I would be able to TRY cutting kumiko strips) … I tried a shortcut … working by eyes. I got mediocre results. I surrendered and started to create wining sticks … which was an entire journey … and you see where I am going … loops within loops … a simple task can become an entire project. Each cycle brings me face to face with tools (and/or skills) I don’t yet have. I ended up with OK winding sticks and a whole set of jigs I would need to get started with kumiko. This is the first set of jigs:

This is not really intended to be about woodworking (there is plenty of information about most of these things available online). It is intended to be about the hidden assumptions that I’ve encountered so many times. Had I not known they were there this journey would have been very frustrating. But I knew they were there … most of them were known unknowns … some were unknown unknowns. But going into this I made a space inside myself for exploration. I got stuck a lot … and when I did, I stopped. I stepped away until I felt invited to step in again. This allowed problems to move to the back of my mind and for solutions to appear without stressing over them. I had no schedule and no expectation for outcomes. I was taking one step at a time … and when I stepped onto shaky ground I took a step back and reflected on how to make the ground more stable.

My initial attempt to cut strips by hand was inspired by Adrian’s video:

But, I think because I was using a pine-ish soft wood, I was getting poor results. My saw blade kept travelling following the grain – leading to a lot of waste. Some strips (usually the nice straight cuts) snapped. It was not a pleasant process.

I “invented” a “cutting jig” for cutting with a hand-saw … that worked very well … at least for a few strips … the sawing rapidly wore out the jig. I did not enjoy the milling.

The “best” solution I did find came after stepping away for some time. In the back of mind I was asking myself “how would a traditional Japanese woodworker cut strips?” An answer suddenly appeared: “on the floor!” And indeed, when I set up an improvised inclined “planing board” on the ground and sat down next to / on it … cutting went much better (for one thing, the cutting angle became much more shallow!).

If I was to continue making kumiko I would need to figure out a way to work more effectively, to achieve better results and most important to me: to work peacefully and enjoy my time in the workshop. However, I managed to create a few usable (mediocre quality, close enough in size – see left side of image above) kumiko strips and was ready to take on a first pattern.

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Kumiko Unfolding – Part3: Hand Tools, Table, Lights

n

About 10 days after placing the tools order (Romanian courier services are … difficult!) the tools arrived … and it was time to get to work on the table.

I started with getting acquainted with hand tools. I initially avoided hand-tools: they were as expensive as power tools and they seemed to require much more knowledge (which I didn’t have space to take on) and physical work (which I didn’t think I had the strength to do) than power tools. In retrospect it seems like a sensible choice:  I went through so much wood in the initial years … building a bed, cabinets, sheles, a kitchen, a chicken coup. I was using rough cut lumber and there was no way I could have done everything I did using hand-tools.

One of the things I was very naive about was sharpening. I kind of understood that sharp tools get dull as you use them, but I understimated what a major task sharpening is. How far off was I? I thought I would need to sharpen the chainsaw once a year … turns out it needs sharpening every couple of hours of use (even more frequently if used poorly … like I did). Sharpening is an art of its own and was one of the reasons I am glad I avoided hand tools. I will probably dedicate a separate post to sharpening … but now I had to finally face it … I wanted to try the jack plane … and so, even though it came decently sharp, I had to hone it a bit. I then created my first ever wood shavings:

… and it was a pleasant experience:

  • An inviting silence – compared to the noise of the power tools.
  • Human scale: unlike the huge force unleashed by power tools hand tools work on a human scale where there is room for sensing, feeling, responding and adjusting.
  • Dust free: I did not need to where a breathing mask … shavings do not get sucked up up into my nostrils and breathing body.
  • Excercise: it can be a good whole-body form of excercise (if done well!)
  • Most surprising to me was that there are things that you can do with hand tools that are actually easier to do than with power tools… heck there are even things that you can only really do with a hand tools.

So I decided to do a crash training course on planing and used it to (roughly) shape the wood I needed to create a frame for the table. A couple of weeks after the tools arrived there was a table frame:

… upon which I could place the table-top:

… on which I could work to create and attach a vise:

… and a segment which can be pulled away to create a gap in which long rip cuts could be made with a circular saw:

While all this was going on I reqired the workshop, put in an electric circuit board and installed some led lights:

Since I am writing this in retrospect it is easy to miss smaller unfoldings within the larger unfolding. The electricity and lights were an unfolding project in its own right:

  • Figuring out and buying the parts for the electric circuit board.
  • Disconnecting the temporary power cable that came from the house and replacing it with a less temporary (!) cable.
  • Installing the circuitry with a preparation for lights.
  • Finding led lights and buying one to get a sense of how its temperature would feel and how light it could provide.
  • Adding three more lights to give decent coverage in the space.

A month after the tools arrived I had a workshop with a table and a vise, with electricity and lights. I could close the barn door when it was windy or rainy and I could stay in the workshop after dark. Great progress!

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Yoga Practice (& Allergy) – Summer 2019

n

Approximately 7 or 8 weeks ago first, slight & subtle signs of allergy appeared: slight wheezing in the breath, itchy eyes, itch throat. Until then, practice was regular and on gradually increasing in intensity and vitality. At that point I decided to stop the intesifying exploration and moved into a holding pattern. I was ancitipating the arrival of more challenging allergy symptoms and aspiring to stay as long as possible with a soft and containing relationship with practice.

Shortly after that I experienced a drop (with no noticeable allergy symptoms yet) in the quality of practice followed by a surprising recovery into a stable and vital practice. The overall framework of the practice has remained unchanged,  the closing ritual has evolved. This is the asana part of the practice as it was until ~ two weeks ago (when the allergy symptoms did appear):

Standing TOTAL: 40 breaths
tadasana R4 10.2.10.2 4 breaths
uttanasana R2+S2 10.4.12.6 6 breaths
parsva uttanasana R2+S2 / – 12.4.12.8 12 breaths
trikonasana (uddhita + parivrti) ALT4 + [ALT4 + S1] 8.2.10.2 12 breaths
utkatasana + ardha utkatasana R6 8.2.10.2 6 breaths
Kneeling TOTAL: 6 breaths
adhomukha svanasana S6 8.0.10.0 6 breaths
Lying TOTAL: 16 breaths
raised leg variations 10.2.10.2 8 breaths
dvipada pitham R2 – S4 10.2.12.2 8 breaths
Inverted TOTAL: 14-16 breaths
sarvangasana S10-12 8.0.8.0
8.0.10.0
8.0.12.0
10-12 breaths
halasana S4 8.0.10.0 4 breaths
Backbending TOTAL: 20 breaths
bhujangasana R4 8.0.10.0 4 breaths
bhujangasana + bent knees R4 8.0.10.0 4 breaths
ardha salabhasana R4 + S1 8.0.10.0 8 breaths
salabhasana (incremental) R4 8.0.8.0 4 breaths
Seated TOTAL: 48 breaths
dandasana R2+S2 12.2.12.2 4 breaths
janusirsasana R2+S2 (midrange + micro) 10.4.12.4 12 breaths
matsyendrasana R6 8.0.10.0 12 breaths
mahamudra R12 / – 4×12.2.12.2

4×12.4.12.4

2×12.4.12.8

20 breaths

At the enf of April, my teacher advised exploring a 1:2Pranayama ratio – and this was the practice I settled on:

8.0.8.0 x6br prailoma ujjayi
8.0.16.0 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
8.4.16.4 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
8.4.16.8 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
4.0.8.0 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

I also practiced a peak of 8.8.16.4 and a few times felt comfortable exploring 8.8.16.8 … but usually that was too much. Soon after the initial signs of allergy appeared I gave preference to BK and settled on the above routine.

A separate chanting practice during the day has grown to cover Yoga Sutra chapter 1 sutras 1 – 22. I have started revisiting a study of Samkhya. Though both of these activities are fragile in the presence of allergy.

That asana sequence held up surprisingly (to me) well up until ~two weeks ago – when more demanding allergy symptoms kicked in. In past years, allergy symptoms eventually (sometimes instantly) collapsed my practice.  However this year, in addition to some “natural” medicinal supports, I am also taking antihistamines with the intention of using them as a support to allow me to be in a continuous relationship with practice. The asana part of the practice changed gradually (though fairly rapidly – over a period of ~10 days) and is now settled at this:

Standing TOTAL: 22 breaths
tadasana R4 10.2.10.2 4 breaths
uttanasana R2+S2 10.2.12.6 6 breaths
parsva uttanasana R2+S2 / – 10.2.12.6 12 breaths
Kneeling TOTAL: 6 breaths
cakravakasana R2 – S3 10.0.12.0 6 breaths
Lying TOTAL: 16 breaths
raised leg variations 10.2.10.2 8 breaths
dvipada pitham R2 – S4 10.2.12.2 8 breaths
Inverted TOTAL: 8-10 breaths
sarvangasana S6-8 8.0.8.0
8.0.10.0
8.0.12.0
6-8 breaths
halasana S2 8.0.8.0 2 breaths
Seated TOTAL: 24 breaths
dandasana R2+S2 12.2.12.2 4 breaths
janusirsasana [R2+S2] + (midrange + micro) + S4 (static mahamudra) 10.2.12.6 20 breaths

In Pranayama the 1:2 ratio was too demanding (I was able to hold it for a while, but felt it depleted and unsettled me) and so I switched to a 1:1.5 ratio instead:

8.0.12.0 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
8.0.12.4 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
8.4.12.4 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
8.4.12.8 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
8.0.8.0 x6br pratiloma ujjayi
4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

It takes longer (2+ hours instead of 1) than usual for my morning breath to settle and allow for good practice. I feel grateful to have access (established before allergy set in) to good BK and (still!) to shoulderstand (sarvangasana) – both offer a space of dee[, quiet energetic settling.

I have felt a change over recent years in the dance between practice and allergy. I attempted to create a kind of chart to illustrate the changes I have felt. I tried to chart my experience of the past 3 years + a more general impression of how it was it years before that. This is what I came out of that experiment:

In the past I used to crash quickly … practice would quickly deteriorate (sometimes even sharper than the green line indicates … there could be a triggering day or event … and I would collapse) and be away from practice fo 8-10 weeks. In recent years the crash has been delayed and somewhat softened … but still I would hit rock bottom and be away from practice for quite a few weeks. This year (so far) practice, as a whole, has held up much better (even though the end of May felt like a sudden crash).

I then decided to look with more discernment and resolution at the different aspects of my-self. I felt that different qualities were affected in different ways and at different times:

This graph shows:

  • When the initial dip took place everything was affected.
  • That the an overall sense of vitality was slowest to recover and has now been most impacted.
  • I feel tired in body and there is a (relative) sense that flexibility has been replaced by rigidity. I felt that my body held up fairly well up until the end of May … then there was a rapid and noticeable diminishing.
  • My focus and attention feels diminished … but not like it was in past years. The quality of presence in sitting after practice comes and goes but has not been what it was a couple of months ago). In the past I would not have had the capacity to write this post at this time.
  • Breath has fluctuated but remained mostly at my service.

I am glad to be able to continue to be in a meaningful relationship with practice. It would not be possible without the help of the anti-histamines. I am curious how the coming weeks will be, the quality of recovery that will follow and how this will echo into future years.

 

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Kumiko Unfolding – Part 2: Table Yes, Floor No

n

Most projects at Bhudeva reach beyond my horizon of perception. Their time-line is unknown, they require much physical work, much figuring out, new tools, new skills and a lot of trial and error. They also require a lot of preparation … so much so … that some “preparations” become separate projects. This often results in a long journey that requires patience … sometimes a journey so long that I feel it is better to approach it with the assumption that I may never reach the goal I am aiming for.

I did not want Kumiko to become another such project. Yes, preparations would be required, but I didn’t want them to take years. I wanted something that I could connect with in the short term. In winter, as I was reading about Kumiko, I aspired to be able to make an asa-no-ha in spring. I wanted to find the shortest path possible to do that.

The workshop is basically half of a barn. It was originally used for grain storage. When we first landed at Bhudeva it was full and inaccessible. I built a couple of saw horses, laid two 2×8 boards on top of them and got to work. Every time I wanted to work I needed to bring out all the tools and setup the saw-horses … and with every sign of rain I had to scramble to pack it all up. A year or two later (I don’t remember exactly when), we finally got the barn cleared. Moving into the barn was a major upgrade to my work conditions. I placed a few long 2×8 interlaced with bricks along one wall and had shelves … a workshop-ish!  … it was also a storage place, it had no lighting (I only worked when daylight was sufficient) and it had a dirt floor covered by linoleum sheets (that originally covered the earth “floors” in the house).

With that I’ve been working ever since. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be in, but it was key to creating almost everything else at Bhudeva. But I now wanted to make it a place I could enjoy coming to, to make Kumiko. Doing that “properly” would mean putting in a concrete floor (which would require clearing it out, which would lead to one or two other substantial projects), installing proper lighting, fixing the walls, cabinets, etc. And very quickly I would find myself in yet another journey that would span years. No, I don’t want this. Thats not quite true … I don’t want it now, but I do want this (I used to take solid flat floors for granted, their absence at Bhudeva taught me to appreciate them more).

So I asked myself what would be the bare minimum I need to make that asa-no-ha pattern? It boiled down to a table with a vise and some wood-working hand tools that would allow me to create small and precise (enough) pieces needed for Kumiko (so far I’ve been using power tools to create large objects that requires only rough precision).

And so I began to research tables and vises and hand tools. Nothing is simple, options everywhere:

  • I remembered that I have in the workshop a large piece of thick veneered particle board that could serve as a table top and designed a table around that.
  • I chose to go with a twin-screw vise.
  • From the Kumiko books I could make a list of the hand tools I would need for making Kumiko.
  • A couple of hand-planes (I settled on a versatile low-angle jack plane & a rebating block planes).
  • Clamps … the vitality of clamps is hard to describe to someone who isn’t a wood-worker.
  • .. and a few specific tools I would need to bring all of this together.

I compiled a specific shopping list and cross-referenced numerous online sources in Europe until I was ready to make an order. I hesitated for quite some time … for two reasons:

  • I was about to spend ~1000 euros which is a big deal for me.
  • I was also still considering different approaches to making some of the jigs (tools I would need to create on my own) I would need; different approaches require different tools. I was in a cycle of researching, thinking and fine-tuning my shopping list … and it was changing almost daily. It took many weeks until the list finally settled down and I had a clear plan in my mind.

Finally, when I felt the list was solid enough (stopped changing), when I was able to breathe softness into my anxiety around money and when spring was nearing (it got warm enough to actually go to the workshop) I ordered the tools I would need.

 

 

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Krishnamacharya’s Final Act

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“I was with him when he released his final breath. I’m told people usually gasp at the end, but my father’s chest only rose and fell, rose once more and then subsided. That was all there was. He passed easily from life. When we moved him from the bed, we found under his pillow bank notes worth five thousand rupees. No one had known the money was there, and it was precisely the amount needed to cover the funeral expenses. Even indeath, my father refused to be under obligation to anyone. It was Krishnamacharya’s final act of independence.”

TKV Desikachar – Health, Healing & Beyond – Yoga and the Living Tradition of Krishnamacharya

 

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Patricia’s Embrace

n

Yesterday was a city day. Our last stop was a hardware store, we got to it 15 minutes before it closed. We went directly to get the two products we needed and got in line at a cashier. Ahead us were a father and daughter.

As we hovered together in line, she was moving around, as kids will often do. At one point she ended up standing right next to me. She was small, she reached higher than my knee but lower than my waist. She looked up at me, smiled (teeth missing and all), moved closer and put her arm around me, embraced my leg and leaned her head against my side. Just like that. She was soft and confident and her embrace was full and delicate. I asked her in my limited Romanian “are you staying with me?” and she replied “yes”. We stayed like that for a bit and then Iulia engaged with her and asked her name, “Patricia” she replied. I asked Iulia to ask her how old she is and she replied “6”. She then turned to Iulia, smiled at her, spread her thin arms open and took Iulia into a full embrace.What a soft ending to a city day.

In the car, Iulia explained to me that the girl had down-syndrome and that she is therefore more comfortable expressing herself emotionally through touch than through words. The “explanation” felt awkward to me. I don’t doubt the truth of it. I can see that identifying such a condition can be useful in providing her with the support and living conditions she may need to thrive. Yet, more prominently, the label felt like it made Patricia smaller, as if it it made her slightly less visible, how easy it is to allow her to become a category first and a unique individual second.

I felt touched by an angelic creature, a gifted, emotionally sensitive being. A natural born healer.

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Yoga Practice – Closing Ritual – April 2019

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The ritual that closes my practice has evolved, as if it has a life of its own, over recent weeks. It statred with the addition of prakrti and purusa … and then prakrti expanded over a few iterations until it has stabilized (for now) on this:

  1. Initiation
    • Inhale opening and raising my palms up in front of me.
    • Exhale covering my eyes (still closed from the sitting practice) with my palms.
    • Stay for a breath or two.
    • Inhale moving my palms away from my eyes back to an open and raised position.
    • Exhale placing my hands on my heart space.
    • Staying here at least for a few breaths … though this is growing and becoming a place I can inhabit for quite some time. It starts by bringing my attention to my own heart, offering softness and inviting healing. If there is something in my body that calls for healing, I spend some time there. After settling in my heart, if I feel called to do so, I open my heart and send it outwards. Sometimes I connect with one specific person. Sometimes I connect with “everyone and everything”. Sometimes I invite connection with people in my life … and I let them flow freely through my consciousness … offering them, as they appear, my heart.
    • Inhale moving my palms away from my heart space back to an open and raised position.
    • Exhale bowing forward my head and bringing my two palms together – cupped forming a space between them – to my forehead.
    • I stay one or two breaths to arrive at this place.
  2. Student, Teacher, Teaching
    • I dedicate a breath to the student in me.
    • I dedicate a breath to the teacher.
    • I dedicate a breath to my teacher Ziva.
    • I dedicate a breath to my teacher Paul.
    • I dedicate a breath to Paul’s teacher Desikachar.
    • I dedicate a breath to Desikachar’s teacher (and father) Krishnamacharya.
    • I dedicate a breath to all of their teachers.
    • I dedicate a breath to all their teacher’s teachers.
    • I dedicate a breath to the teachings.
  3. Purusa & Prakrti
    • I dedicate a breath to prakrti – that which is eternally changing.
    • I dedicate a breath to my mother.
    • I dedicate a breath to my father.
    • I dedicate a breath to the older of my two sisters.
    • I dedicate a breath to the younger of my two sisters.
    • I dedicate a breath to our ancestors.
    • I deiecate a breath to our ancestor’s ancestors.
    • I dedicare a breath to our relatives – those with whom we share blood.
    • I dedicate a breath to my kindred spirirts – those with whom I share(d) heart time on the planet.
    • I dedicate a breath to my guardian angels – those with whom I share(d) heart time but are not on the face of the planet.
    • I dedicate a breath to the planet on which I sit.
    • I dedicate a breath to the atmosphere in which I breathe.
    • I dedicate a breath to the life that emerges in between the planet and the atmosphere.
    • I dedicate a breath to the cosmos which lies beyond.
    • I dedicate a breath to purusa – that which eternally sees.
    • I dedicate a breath or two to Yoga – the wholeness and entirety held by the preceding breaths. I  imagine breathing that wholeness into a small ball of light cupped in the space between my palms.
  4. Closing
    • I inhale moving my palms away from my forehead to the space in front of me. I imagine leaving the small ball of light floating in front of my heart space.
    • I exhale opening my palms wider and lowering them further down.
    • I inhale and imagine that the small ball of light expands to fill the space between my hands.
    • I exhale and imagine the ball expanding into infinity.
    • I stay for a breath or two acknowledging the “nothing” that is left behind.
    • On an exhale I lower my palms to my knees and turn them facing down to indicate completion of the practice.
    • I stay for another few breaths and gently open my eyes.
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If an Asana is a Koan …

n

There is a lot I do know about asanas in my practice:

  • I know the core position – the ideal form.
  • I know how to modify it to suit me – the form I am able to meet.
  • I know how to get into it and how to leave it
  • I know if I am engaging it statically (staying in the posture) or dynamically (moving in and out without staying)
  • I know where to place my attention
  • I know my breathing capacity in that asana
  • I know what breath ratio I am using
  • I know what asanas come before it and help to prepare me for it
  • I know what asanas come after it and can counter its effects
  • I know what roles it plays in the greater picture of practice.
  • I know how to identify improvement in an asana
  • I know when there is improvement

I also know that if I take a direct approach and focus on physical aspects, that improvement is less likely. But I don’t know how improvement has actually happened … what has improved? what has changed inside me? has my body changed? has my energy changed? has my mind changed?  I don’t know … over time (weeks, months, years of practice) there are accumulative effects that may seem more clear and apparent … but for the most part I know that I have changed, but I don’t know how.

Today I came out of practice wondering if an asana (when done appropriately) is like a physical Koan? A verbal Koan seems to evoke a mind’s thinking capacity. An asana-koan activates something else … I am tempted to say the body … but that doesn’t feel right. While an asana seems, superficially, to be physical … it is really a tool aimed at mind … perhaps a more embodied experience of mind? A concept of mind that includes not just brain, but heart, gut, bone, muscle, tissue and blood?

In my experience, engaging with an asana well evokes a quieting of mental capacities … for practical reasons: thinking disrupts. The medium of “engagement” in asana is breath. Different asana create different demands (in different people, in different phases of life, in different seasons of the year …) on the breath  – and so invite different explorations.

Breath is a unique intermediary: it both happens autonomously and can be consciously affected. If mental activity attempts to dominate, breath responds clearly and sharply, if mental activity leads you to use force, breath responds with even more force (on the other hand: if mental activity softly surrenders, so does breath!) . Breath invites mental activity into a dynamic and subtle lived experience.

As with a verbal/mental koan, asana does not provide a mentally satisfying answer … hence the experience that I don’t know what actually happened or changed inside me. In a way an asana becomes a practice for a kind of mental-not-knowing.  “Not-knowing” is not some big mystical secret … we walk and talk without “knowing” how we do it … if I look closely it seems that most of my lived experience is like that. Yet, somehow my mental processes seem to carry a desire and expectation for knowing. Asana practice, for me, tempers that expectation.

This is true not just for Asana. Pranayama (breathing practices) are an even more subtle and evolved experience of this. In Pranayama there is a clear quantitive development that I  (and you) can see by looking at the numbers. There is also a qualitative development which I can describe verbally but would come across as more personal and subjective. But as with asana (see list at the beginning of this post) I can plan and do a practice to evoke a developmental change … but I can say even less than with asana, what has changed.

I trust this embodied form of learning more than I trust whatever mental realizations may accompany it. My mental-mind is capable of confusion and delusion without knowing it. My breathing-mind is always clear, direct and honest. My mental-mind would strive to “solve” a koan. My breathing-mind knows no resolution, so it more easily inhabits the asana-koan and in doing so invites my mental-mind into a more peaceful co-habitation.

Viewed in ths light, asana practice is, in a way,  a kind of willful exploration of not-knowing. It is a playground where I train to be in complexity. I can get a sense of how everything is tied together in a web that my mental facilities cannot grasp, but that I (body-breath-mind) can intentionally inhabit.

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Kumihimo: Japanese Braiding

n

A Japanese spirit seems to be upon me … Kumihimo is yet another beautiful example of a living-meditation:

… and in this video … working with 68 braids … there is a glimpse of what I believe is a key to this art (and any art!?) … the instruction sheet that guides the maker … a specific sequence that has been worked out over generations and used for probably even more generations … the “job” of the maker is to be present so that he/she can inhabit and act out the known sequence:

I am confident that, just as there is are sequences for making these intricate braids, so there are sequences for experiential teaching this art … gradual steps … gradually acquiring sensitivity for tension in fingers, arms and the entire body … flowing movement … learning to read “making sequences” … an artful teaching process.

I often feel that, as I learn most things on my own, when I encounter complexity, what I am missing is a correct sequence and that is where I place my attention – finding a generative sequence instead of a “solution”.

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Japanese Toolmakers

n

As I stand at the entrance to the space of Japanese Kumiko woodworking, I find myself also getting acquainted with the tools associated with the culture. And one of the fundamental functions in wood-working is cutting … which ultimately involves blades in many forms.

A unique feature of many japanese tools is laminated metal … a thin piece of hard-cutting metal is welded together with a thicker piece of softer iron which makes up the mass of the blade. You can see this in chisels, planes, knives and even hammers. This seems to be inherited from Samurai sword making … a peaceful manifestation of a transformed combat technology. The resulting blades are so sharp that (when used properly) Japanese planes (called Kanna)  leave such a smooth mirror finish that no sanding is required (and it seems that sandpaper is non-existent in traditional Japanese woodworking.

As I watched this documentary about Japanese blacksmiths I imagined a world where this kind of making was the norm and not the exception. A world where many small artisans replace massive industrial scale production. Watching these blacksmiths I felt that such a lifestyle seems to encompass and profoundly address human needs … work that provides a livelihood while creating quality, purposeful objects … and in a meditative setting (where meditation is inherent and not conceptual and disassociated) … an integrated life.

Posted in AltEco, Business, Community, Meditation, outside, Tech Stuff, Yoga | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Echoes from Building Beauty Seminar of April 4th 2019

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1: Project as a Living Being!?

In my experience as a Yoga practitioner there is only so much that can be done on the mat. Ultimately the work and qualities of Yoga push up against the realities of life. There is where the real work of change happens. What changes can I make in my life that support the Yoga mat?

If I practice in the morning but then go into an busy and nervous day of work, then the next morning my practice will echo that nervousness. In this way my practice is limited to what my life allows. If I want to go beyond that I need to see how can I change my day so that it becomes a better preparation for the practice that follows it the following morning. This can lead to changing smaller things like food and rest to larger things like career and relationships.

I am wondering if a parallel can be drawn to Building Beauty. If the question of building beauty is confined to the geometry of architecture … it seems there is only so far we can go … or that going further demands a struggle. So my attention moves to the backdrop in which creating beautiful geometry takes place. What choices can be made to create conditions which are more conductive to building beauty? Can I move to a city (or country) where municipal planning and culture prioritize building beauty? When looking for a job – can I look for architecture firms that prioritize building beauty?

What about the “project” of architecture? Can that be treated as a living being? Can that be treated as something that can be made beautiful? I think (though not sure) that it was in book 3 that Alexander talked about the expansion of the profession of architecture: what about project management (Susan talked about holding on to clear priorities)? what about budgets and schedules (Alexander’s example of working on a 25 year budget for a neighborhood)?what about group decision making (Alexander’s example of building a bench: by finding a correct sequence of small questions – agreement is increased and conflict can be reduced)? what about non-violent communication? There is plenty of innovation happening in many of these fields … innovation that I suspect is in alignment with building beauty.

My life and reflections of recent years had led me to believe that there is much more potential and leverage in focusing on the conditions in which change takes place instead of directly working on that which I want to change. Isn’t this echoed in Alexander’s idea of strengthening a center by working on other centers that support and embellish it. I feel that the conflict that was discussed may be an indicator / invitation / opportunity to look at a bigger picture … beauty that goes beyond geometry and environment in which beautiful geometry may be created.

How can the “project container” of “beautiful geometry” be made beautiful?

2: Commonality

Alexander’s humanistic approach has been a great reminder for me that we have so much more in common than different … and it is beneficial to explore the common-ground! I have a feeling that many (most?) people who are “doing architecture” the mainstream way are unsatisfied with it but don’t know what to do about it. If that is the case, then “conflict” may be an opportunity to help another person find his/her way through their own confusion?

For that to happen, when conflict emerges, it needs to be recognized and given time, space and energy. If the conflict emerges but pressure continues in the default direction of “architectural progress” … then it can’t really be addressed and it becomes a missed opportunity (and accumulates tension).

3: Beware Biting Metaphysics

Though I am personally very much interested in metaphysics, I have come to believe it is something that is usually best to stay away from (with most people). Most people in the modern western world) were raised (often unconsciously!) to believe that the world is a lifeless and complicated machine and that matter is inert. Suggesting to such a person that space itself is alive can undermine their sense of security and place in the world. I’ve learned (the hard-way) that is not a good opening move to finding common ground. Tension is corrosive.

However inviting someone to a simple (accessible) “mirror of the self test” can lead to interesting reflection. It can gently coax out subtle internal paradoxes and invite reflection … and that may lead someone down a path of discovery. Curiosity is nourishing 🙂

 

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, outside | You are welcome to read 2 comments and to add yours

Kumiko Unfolding – Part 1: I Want This

n

For the past few years I’ve been trying to make myself available to initiatives and projects that felt meaningful and that resonated with me. I’ve tried to merge skills from my past (software design) with my skills in the present … peaceful, gradual, sensitive unfolding!? These efforts, for the most part, have not worked out well. So I have been embracing even deeper my natural tendency to retreat. But this creates a practical challenge, especially in winter (when outdoor work is mostly put on hold): what to do with my free time?

My workshop at Bhudeva has been a place of mixed experience for me for almost 8 years. It has been an empowering place … allowing me to make so much of the physical world I inhabit. The priority has been making as much as possible with as little as possible. As a result the workshop has become a utilitarian place – a place where I go to create things I need. It has not been a place I have enjoyed being in. It is not equipped for quality work. It is equipped with minimal and efficient tools to get affordable, practical but mediocre results. I like that I can create the things that I want, but I don’t enjoy making them because quality is absent.

Almost a year ago I stumbled across a Japanese art called Kumiko in which small pieces of wood are used to create intricate patterns:

Sidenote: I have since discovered a sibling/complementary Japanese art called Hakone that explores similar patterns in which the spaces in between are also “filled”:

I decided to look into Kumiko and to revisit my relationship with the workshop. I wondered if it would be possible for me to transform the workshop from a utilitarian space into a space that can support a quality and meditative experience of making physical things in the world – things like Kumiko. I have been on this journey for a few months now … and to be honest answer is still “I don’t know”. But I did decide to explore this in action (and not just as a mental exercise).

My experience of scarcity (limited resources – materials, tools, money) acts as an inhibiting force on me. Allowing myself to pursue something that is not “really needed” has been challenging. It brings up much doubt and insecurity. I meet that by taking small gradual steps that feel accessible and safe for me. That itself, has become an interesting and engaging process. Wondering what is a good next step for me – and acting that out:

  • What is next?
  • Can I just go there directly or are there preparations I need to make first?
  • What is good preparation and what is excessive preparation?
  • How do I stay in touch with what motivates me?
  • How to meet uncertainty and insecurity?
  • When am I over-reaching and what is driving me to over-reach?
  • What tools do I need?
  • How to balance quality and price?
  • How can I gift myself an experience of quality within a sense of constricting scarcity?

This journey is an interesting process of unfolding. In a way, Kumiko is going to be a setting, a back-drop for the real “play”: how do I approach this kind of exploration into what is for me unchartered territory?

To get started I watched some online videos of other Kumiko travelers. I felt attracted and confident that I want to give it a try. But the videos were not detailed enough to be instructional  – they left more questions than answers. So I did a search and discovered Desmond King who has published a series of books about Kumiko. I ordered the first two books and cuddled with them during winter. I wanted to get a sense of what I would need to make Kumiko. What I found was both informative and annoying and I’ll get into that in the next post(s).

 

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Create “Nothing”

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“The story involves two swordsmiths, Muramasa and Masamune. Both were reputed to produce excellent swords, prized among the samurai. The character of Muramasa, however, was said to be jealous and cynical: his ambition and keen sense of competitiveness motivated him to concentrate on forging blades that cut keenly … any samurai who possessed a Muramasa sword … felt its power and quality and was urged to cut people mercilessly. Masamune’s swords, on the other hand, were said to invest their owners with a sense of confidence and serenity. Though these swords also cut well and were brilliantly beautiful, much of the time they remained sheathed …

It is reported that Chiyozuru-Korehide knew that his blades ‘cut well’. This meant, simply, that the cutting edge was extremely thin. Logically, then, the best cutting edge would be defined as the thinnest possible edge, so thin as to almost approach nothing. For Chiyozuru-Korehide, then, the highest achievement of his craft would be to create ‘nothing.’ But once nothing has been created, it becomes something, and this is no longer nothing. It is no wonder that Chiyozuru-Korehide, as well as other blacksmiths, wrote poetry, for their skill and knowledge were inextricably combined with philosophy.”

Japanese Woodworking Tools – Their Tradition, Spirit and Use by Toshio Odate

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The Morphic Field of Hallelujah

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What touches me? The eternally spacious words of Leonard Cohen? Jeff Buckley’s poignant and guitar colored delivery? Or is it Lindsey’s voice as she pulls away to conjure up a sharp, powerful energy launched like a penetrating arrow into my heart? Can the elements be separated? Where does the song Hallelujah begin and where does it end? It is OH SO CLEARLY there … a living, changing, growing field … so specific and yet so infinite … a morphic field!

.. this post brought to you by the morphic field of morphic fields … probably instantiated by Michael Pollan’s objection to it (How To Change Your Mind) and by mentioning Rupert Sheldrake …

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